Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making it Official—Women Get the Right to Vote

Alice Paul unveiled a banner in celebration of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment at National Women’s Party headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 1920.

On August 26, 1920 United States Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution which read in toto:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Women of this country, after a struggle of 72 years, officially were granted the right to vote in all States and Territories of the union.  The certification by the Secretary was just the dot of the i. 
When the Tennessee legislature approved the amendment by a slender one vote margin on June 9 becoming the decisive 36th state out of the then 48, the victory had essentially been won.  One by one the other recalcitrant dozen begrudgingly approved it later.  In the case of some Deep South states, much later indeed—Florida and South Carolina in 1969, Georgia and Louisiana in 1970, North Carolina in 1971, and good ol’ Mississippi held out until 1984. 
No matter.  Like it or not the foot draggers, like every other state had to register and allow women to vote in the November 1920 election for offices on the local, state, and Federal level. 
The members of the mainstream National American Woman Suffrage Association led by veteran Suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt which had been pushing the amendment since 1916 and Alice Paul’s far more militant organization, the National Woman's Party, which had hectored the Wilson Administration with forbidden picketing of the White House and shamed it by undergoing brutal force feedings during prison hunger strikes, both celebrated the hard won victory. 
Come November one signer of the declaration of the seminal Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 lived to cast her ballot.  Millions of other women did likewise, but not as many as organizers had hoped.  Many women were still under the influence of a culture that had excluded them from public affairs, those in conservative states risked social ostracism if they showed up at the polls, some feared the opposition of their husbands, and others were simply unfamiliar with the formalities of registration and voting. 
It actually took decades for women to participate in elections at levels comparable to men.  Today, however, women are more likely to vote than men in many states and as a group have demonstrably different values than men in deciding who to support.  The so-called Gender Gap has become a significant reality in American politics.  But today, let’s pop a cork in celebration of a great victory not only for women, but for human rights.

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